While many U.S. concepts built around one dessert item, like frozen yogurt or cupcakes, have seen market saturation and decline, this Japanese chain of cream puff stores continues to see robust growth.
“These guys are definitely jumping on the indulgent trend, but they do well with the snacking trend because they have some more savory options,” says Technomic’s Hallow. “And they’re affordable.”
For about $2–$3, a guest can enjoy savory items like the sweet potato cream puff or sweet treats like the green tea and honey cream puff that alludes to the brand’s roots. And they can get a glimpse at the whole baking process, too, thanks to what Beard Papa’s calls its “eater-tainment” operational model. Having celebrated 10 years in the U.S. in 2013, the brand recently made its foray into Hollywood, growing its total U.S. unit count to 26.
The montadito may be the fast-food answer to increasingly popular Spanish tapas. These sharable, bite-sized sandwiches are a culinary staple in Spain, the brand’s home market in which they operate 285 units. With a blank canvas of baguette-like bread, 100 Montaditos tops its sandwiches with combinations like meatballs and bacon; shrimp, lettuce, piquillo peppers, and ali oil; and Basque-style chorizo known as chistorra and piparra pepper. Guests can choose from 100 such combinations to build a platter of five.
“It’s a very flexible style of eating, similar to the small plates trend,” Hallow says. “It’s meant for consumers to pick a few montaditos and create their own meal or go there for something like an after-work happy hour or a situation where you can share.” An alcohol program featuring wines imported from Spain and various sangrias round out the authentic options.
Like most other international transplants, 100 Montaditos—which boasts 20 U.S. units—grew first in urban markets like Miami and New York. But “they went to Iowa recently,” Hallow says. “They have shown that they have the potential to succeed outside of the major cities.”
Dubbed by many of its fans as the McDonald’s of the Philippines, Jollibee didn’t stray from its fast-food model when it made its U.S. debut in Daly City, California, in 1989. Since then, the brand has grown to span Nevada, Texas, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Hawaii, with a total of 29 locations. But “the challenge with them is that most of their stores are located in areas with a high Filipino population,” says Hallow, adding that Jollibee’s comfort food could potentially resonate with Americans in regions like the South and Southeast.
The chain does indeed offer some familiar comfort food like burgers, buckets of fried chicken, and corned beef sandwiches, but it also offers items specifically catered to Filipino consumers, including burger steaks, spaghetti topped with sliced hot dogs, and frozen beverages similar to bubble tea.
When the executives of this steak and burger brand saw their home market of Brazil begin to reach saturation, they looked north to the U.S. for a new challenge. But before making its debut, Giraffas underwent a fast-casual makeover.
“We saw the fast-food market here was saturated already, too, and a lot of fast-food chains were losing space to new fast-casual concepts,” says João Barbosa, Giraffas U.S. CEO. “So our first big challenge was to adjust the concept to a fast casual.”
The brand’s upscale menu, which includes Filet Mignon Tips Stroganoff, Brazilian Shrimp Moqueca, and cheesy-bread bites called Pao de Queijo, lends the concept very well to the fast-casual space, says Technomic’s Hallow. “You can get a steak and three sides for under $14, which is something most quick serves can’t offer, and it would be hard to find it for that price point at a full serve.”
One of the keys to keeping costs low at Giraffas is the cut of beef used in its burgers, Barbosa says. While ground chuck is the go-to choice for American burger brands, Brazilian consumers prefer a cut known as picanha. As there’s little demand for this cut of beef, which in North America would be divided into the rump, the round, and the loin, it’s relatively inexpensive to source in the states.
Giraffas’ picanha burgers and steaks are familiar to the brand’s first U.S. market, Florida. With a robust population of Brazilians and Hispanics to attract, the brand has grown to 11 locations in the Sunshine State. Next year, Barbosa and the U.S. team will target urban markets like New York and Boston, and then grow westward.
“We’re aiming to have something like 110–120 restaurants by 2020 here in the U.S.,” Barbosa says, adding that the brand will eventually franchise.
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